Cottoning on (iii)

Over the last couple of days I’ve been sharing some of the lost jobs and occupations of people in the past – people who spent their lives working in the cotton mills (factories) of Oldham and other parts of Lancashire. The reason there were so many mills in the area was geographical – being on the west side of the country the air was more moist and it was better to spin raw cotton fibres into thread.

Here are the last words I shared yesterday:

  1. setter on – another name for a doffer – remember the doffer?
  2. sizer – sizing is to treat thread or fabric to make it stronger – in this case with a starchy glue
  3. slasher – the machine and person who does the sizing
  4. stripper and grinder – whatever your thoughts, he was a maintenance engineer
  5. tackler – someone who sets up the machinery to begin
  6. tenter – it just means someone who looks after any machinary
  7. throstle spinner – it actually does have something to do with thrushes; a throstle was a machine named after a throstle because of the noise it made (thrushes do have the sweetest song, so maybe this was a nice job!). A throstle in the cotton mill was a type of spinning machine
  8. twister – someone joins the ends of the new thread together with what was already on the loom to make longer threads – interestingly, it was often done by disabled people because it was done sitting down
  9. warper – do you remember what a beamer was? Well a warper is the same as a beamer
  10. OK… just to rmind you, a doffer loads and unloads bobbins, a beamer is the gigantic bobbin

and the link again:

The mill in my featured image is not a cotton mill but a saw mill


While researching for my next novel Magick (published next week!) I do a lot of research into past lives as my story is partly about a genealogical search. My main character is researching his own maternal line and looking where the Magick name comes from. The following passage is where he finds out about a family with that name who are actually nothing to do with him, but her is still interested in them, and deviates to follow their story.


There were three more Magicks, a completely new family, none with any connection to anyone I had come across before. In Hamilton… which I think is in Scotland, there’s Mr and Mrs Magick, Thomas and Jane and their year old daughter, also Jane.

I checked the Magics and oh goodness… there are twenty-two of them… this is becoming impossible. Magics and Magicks are appearing and disappearing census by census and I don’t get any sense of who they are or how they connect, as I had done with the Radwinters.

Just to complete my notes I went back to the Scottish Magicks; Thomas Magick is a cotton weaver… in the 1860’s cotton was becoming a boom industry I think… Or so I remembered from my history lessons at school…. His wife was a tambourer… what on earth is that? The only word which sounds like it is tambourine… was there a tambourine making industry in Scotland?

However, when I look it up I see that it is to do with embroidery; Jane Magick was an embroiderer, and probably working at home, giving garments individuality by her skills at making patterns and designs on them. No doubt it was piece work, where she was paid by item she completed, and no doubt she tried to do as many ‘pieces’ as possible. I had a vision of a woman only a little older than Kylie, bending over her embroidery by the light of a candle, maybe ruining her eyes to earn money for her family…

Jane Magick was a widow when she married Thomas, a widow at twenty-four. In 1871 the family were still in Hamilton, Thomas now a labourer in an unspecified way, Jane still a tambourer. My sense of melancholy  as I saw that baby Jane who would now be aged ten was not with them, but there was a new child less than a year old who was called Jane. It seems morbid, but families often named a new child after an older one who’d died.

In 1881 Jane was still doing her embroidery, so working by candle or gas light can’t have affected her eye-sight too much; her husband Thomas was a colliery fireman. Four children were still at home, a daughter helping her family by working as a steam loom weaver.

Suddenly the family vanish and don’t appear in any other censuses… where did they all go? I can’t find them in deaths either…

I had a sudden inspiration… did Scottish censuses become separate from English and Welsh ones? I search the Scottish records in MyTimeMachine, and there they are, Thomas and Jane, and youngest daughter all now called Magwick. Thomas is a pit labourer, down the mine… how hard for a fifty-five year old…  There’s no occupation for Jane but their daughter is a shop girl at a boot makers.

1901 old Thomas is a coal picker… which sounds a bit desperate; Jane has no stated occupation, and living with them is daughter and grandchildren… and that is the last record I can find of them…